Happy Women’s Day [Archives:2006/928/Viewpoint]

March 13 2006

“If there is a world day for water, why can't there be a day for women? There is even a day for the ozone, for God's sake!” This is what Layla Abdullah, a Yemeni teacher from Sana'a, argued with her husband last week on Women's Day March 8. The International Day for Women is not very well known or appreciated in Yemen. In fact, if it were not for news about a conference organized by the Women's National Committee in Yemen, many Yemenis would not even have acknowledged the day. With satellite channels and the internet, many educated Yemenis have become more familiar with such international days, like my friend Layla.

Layla waited impatiently for this day so she could demand attention from her husband. However, upon informing him it was Women's Day, she was utterly disappointed when she received a “So what?” in reply. Being a shoulder to cry on and with the aid of internet references, I decided to explain to Layla's husband and all Yemen Times readers what International Women's Day signifies.

International Women's Day is a major day of global celebration for women's economic, political and social achievements stemming from the early years of the 20th century when women faced extreme discrimination, especially economically. Unions and syndicates were a growing trend at that time. Due to poor working environments for women in the U.S., Europe and Russia, women staged the first demonstrations demanding equality with men.

On the last Sunday in February 1908, socialist women in the U.S. initiated the first Women's Day after large demonstrations calling for women's voting, political and economic rights. The following year, 2,000 people attended a Women's Day rally in Manhattan. That year, 1909, women garment workers staged a general strike where 20,000 to 30,000 shirtwaist makers struck for 13 cold, winter weeks for better pay and working conditions. The Women's Trade Union League provided bail for arrested strikers and large sums for strike funds.

The 1910 Women's Day was taken up by socialists and feminists throughout the country. Later that year, delegates went to the second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen with the intention of proposing that Women's Day become an international event. The following year, International Women's Day was marked by more than a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. However, soon thereafter, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City killed more than 140 garment workers. Lack of safety measures was blamed for the high death toll. Furthermore, on the eve of World War I, women across Europe held peace rallies March 8, 1913. With the resurgence of feminism in the late 1960s came a renewed interest in International Women's Day. Feminists found it a ready-made holiday to celebrate women's lives and work and thus began promoting March 8 as such.

Today International Women's Day is celebrated around the world to acknowledge the brave pioneering women who fought for their rights. It is also an occasion to reflect on struggles and inequalities women used to suffer and still do in many parts of the world, including Yemen. The very least we can do on this day is appreciate our women and acknowledge their endless giving.